As I have gotten older, the romantic ideals I once held about lifelong commitment have all withered away. What’s left is the realization that marriage is the most difficult thing that we, as flawed humans, can do in life. While that does not diminish the value I place on it, I’ve come to accept that there’s nothing that I can do to guarantee success in marriage.

Looking back on my 20s, there were periods in which I was love, marriage- and baby-crazed. I often want to reach back into that last decade of my life, take the old me by the shoulders, and shake some sense into her. Tell her that she’s not ready and would sabotage it whenever it came her way. I would tell her that she has no clue who she is, where she’s headed and what her purpose on Earth is. Begging her to turn inwards, I would tell her that she won’t be any good to a man unless she has first taken time to know, heal, love and trust herself.

Today, I’m no longer disillusioned about my character flaws, hang-ups, and wounds. I’m also not naive enough to think that I’ve “arrived.” The woman I am today still has a lot of emotional and spiritual maturing to do, but I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been in the past. I like this version of me and am excited about what future versions will look like.

It’s said that age makes you more set in your ways. Yet, one of the major complaints that couples voice in marriage is that their partners changed. It seems who you are married to now isn’t the same person you fell in love with years ago.

Too often, I hear married women voice disappointment and hurt that their mates aren’t as attentive to their needs as they were during the courtship phase. But I also hear married men struggle to view their wives in the same light of admiration after seeing them lose the professional focus they once respected.

At the center of both extremes are expectations. Married couples seem to be most successful when both individuals have a healthy, realistic grasp on their expectations for each other. Those expectations will, of course, have to be adjusted as needed for the sake of compromise. But when those expectations are rarely met and resentment starts to develop, what’s at stake may be a non-negotiable.

I often think about what changes marriage would bring about in my own life. As purpose-driven as I am right now, the idea of motherhood often frightens me. I once laid out some of the reasons on my Urban Cusp blog, but the list grows as I experience increased success. Since I give my all to everything that I love and am passionate about, I fear that balance will become a tremendous challenge.

I don’t ever want to be a part-time wife or mother. I refuse to ever let that happen. But how much of a burden must we allow marriage and motherhood to place on our bodies, careers and sense of personal fulfillment? Is there such a thing as boundaries that both partners can set to ensure that women don’t have an overwhelming and unfair sense of responsibility in the marriage?

A lot of people tell me that while there is no blueprint for guaranteeing a successful marriage, one’s choice in a life partner will determine a lot of these unknown variables. The idea is that if you marry “the right person,” someone who is “willing to listen,” then everything else will work itself out one way or another.

I’ve had a few wake-up calls in recent times that suggest otherwise. One came in the form of a married woman who chooses to wear condoms when having sexual intercourse with her husband. She would rather be proactive in avoiding infection in the event that he ever cheated than lean too heavily on trust. While this practice is a wise one and empowers her to protect herself, it leaves me wondering if any aspect of marriage remains sacred.

Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post and The RootDC. She is the founder and editorial director of Urban Cusp, an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter @RahielT .